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Management

Keeping Safety in Mind When Stacking and Storing Hay

Written by Jeremiah Vardiman

The recent cool weather is a reminder of what is around the corner – fall, and that summer is officially over.  As with every year this is the peak time for harvest, and one crop in particular is hay.  Even though hay production and harvest has been an ongoing process throughout the summer, the fall is generally the busiest time of year for this crop, which is occupied with the last cutting of hay, moving hay from the field to storage and transportation of hay to customers.  In a nutshell, this seems to be an endless game of tearing one haystack down to build a new haystack somewhere else. 

So what? Why would hay be a concern for safety? In 2014, approximately 2.24 million tons of hay was produced in Wyoming. This includes alfalfa hay, mixed hay and grass hay. This is an astounding amount of tonnage that is typically moved quickly to storage with the assistance of various types of equipment, which creates the perfect situation where accidents tend to thrive, causing injury or even death. 

To contribute to this scenario, hay bales can range from 50 pounds for small square bales to over 1,000 pounds for large square or round bales, with each type of bale contributing certain factors for safety. 

Did you know that overturned tractors are the number one cause of injury and death in farm and ranch operations? We typically do not associate overturned tractors with hay. However large bales of hay, either square or round bales, are moved strictly with some form of equipment, whether that be tractor, backhoe, skidsteer, etc., because of the weight and size of the bales. Equipment used for moving, stacking or feeding hay can overturn for various reasons, including traveling too fast around a corner, driving along steep slopes, pulling unstable loads, carrying a load too high or hitting an obstacle like a hole, rut or debris in the road.  Anytime additional weight is added to the scenario, such as lifting bales or moving a load of bales, this can be a compounding factor to the equipment overturning.

Before moving or handling hay, make sure the equipment is in good repair and working condition, weighted properly and able to carry the load safely and securely. Whenever possible use areas that are flat, firm and have plenty of space for moving and maneuvering for the size of equipment used. It is highly recommend to use attachments that are specifically designed to handle large bales, such as grapples and bale spears. Never raise or lower the load while the tractor is moving, and carry the load in a low position. 

In the case of small square bales, these are generally loaded on trailers by hand and brute force. Even though these bales are small enough to be lifted by an individual, it does not mean that you are safe from harm.  This work is typically done on top of the hay which is an uneven, unstable and slick surface that creates a situation for falling off the hay, bales falling on individuals, twisting an ankle, etc. There is also the potential of straining, pulling or tearing muscles in the legs, arms and back. 

If you choose the route of bucking bales, make sure to always have a solid footing before lifting and throwing bales. Use proper lifting form, lifting with your legs and not your back. Get the trailer as close to the stack as possible while also getting the stacking height as close to the lifting level, so there is no need to strain or overexert the muscles.   Always wear good footwear when moving hay to provide good stability to your feet, joints and muscles through this laborious task.

Once the hay is stacked, there are still safety concerns associated with it.  Stack stability is probably one of the largest concerns.  One of the biggest fears with haystacks would be a bale or bales falling off the stack and crushing a person. The taller the stack is, the greater the force can be from a falling bale. 

To prevent bales or stacks from falling over, make sure that the stack is established on level ground, built with a solid wide base, does not lean to one side and is only as high as needed.  If possible, stack the hay in a pyramid shape, which is the most stable shape because  the wide base and tapering sides keep the weight of the hay in the center of the stack. 

Another contributing factor that impacts stack stability is the degradation of hay overtime. As the hay ages in the stack, this can cause slumping or slouching of bales and possibly the entire stack, which, in turn, can cause an unstable stack. Always be careful when walking next to, climbing or walking on a haystack, which unfortunately never has the most ideal footing.

As the hay season progresses, be mindful of safety while lifting, hauling and stacking hay bales.  Safety around hay storage and stacking is common sense, so take the time to do things correctly and safely. Have a safe and productive season with your hay endeavors.